Sofie Birch / Antonina Nowacka - Languoria Music Album Reviews

Composer Sofie Birch’s lush ambient creations and experimental singer Antonina Nowacka’s indelible vocal melodies meet on a record that ebbs and flows as naturally as breathing.

On a crisp autumn morning last year, in a 19th-century synagogue in Krakow, Danish electronic musician Sofie Birch and Polish vocalist Antonina Nowacka coaxed a heavenly sound out of the ether. Birch played a compact setup of hardware synthesizers, wires tumbling from the outputs, while Nowacka held herself still behind the mic, her eyes closed as she sang, hands half-clasped and tracing small circles in front of her, as though she were sewing invisible thread. Their gauzy white frocks only accentuated the ritual atmosphere.

For the few dozen people in attendance, it was a magical event; some wept. Langouria, the duo’s recorded debut together, translates the otherworldly power of their Unsound festival performance to the studio.

The album represents a meeting of the minds. As a solo musician, Birch has spent the past few years developing a unique style of lush, welcoming ambient music steeped in new-age tones. Nowacka’s work has ranged from abstract vocalizations alongside stark electronics—imagine Joan La Barbara fronting Wolf Eyes—to solo improvisations in Oaxacan churches and Javan caves, probing the outer limits of natural reverb. If Birch’s music is a brightly colored expanse of coral, or a sashaying field of kelp, Nowacka’s voice is a lone organism carving a languid path through it—perhaps a translucent jellyfish, lithe yet severe in the exactitude of its movements.

Birch pares back her playing to make way for the slim contours of Nowacka’s instrument. Rather than unleashing her usual billowing plumes of synthesizer, she for the most part restrains herself to just a few sounds and the merest melodic shapes, while faint field recordings—birdsong, the rustle of footsteps—root the music in the lived world. “Lilieae” opens the album with liquid pads and plucked sounds with the incidental rhythm of a soft rain on a tin roof. The two-part “Morning Room” makes do with tentative strokes of vibraphone. “Sudany,” one of the album’s most rapturously beautiful tracks, is a misty constellation of chimes, mysterious as the night sky.

In concert, Nowacka stayed silent for long stretches—eyes closed, fingers performing invisible handiwork—as though waiting for some cue that only she could hear. Here, she is similarly sparing in her contributions, and a few short instrumental sketches—like the pulsing flute synths of “Behind the Hill”—help to draw out the abiding feeling of patience. When she sings, though, it’s everything. Her tone is soft, hushed, often no louder than the hiss of breath, yet the scope of it is vast. There are no words, just sighs, coos, and drawn-out vowels—air given shape and tint. Yet her careful, sure-footed melodies, subtly multi-tracked in places, are indelible as any singalong. What’s most remarkable about her delivery is her tight, quick vibrato, which quivers in a steady, rapid-fire stream, like a magnetic field. There’s something eerie about it; in places, I’m reminded of the sopranos on scratchy old 78s, when phonograph records still carried the lingering aura of a spirit medium.

The abiding feeling of Langouria is its sense of ease. Its songs ebb and flow as naturally as breathing. There are no sharp edges, no moments of dissonance; there’s just enough darkness—in the fogged chords of “The Journey” or the wistful chirps of “Me of Ocean”—to balance its ecstatic calm. Much like Nowacka’s a cappella recordings in caves and churches, it feels like a portal to another world. Building upon that intimate, spellbinding morning last fall, Birch and Nowacka give us an enduring snapshot of the most ephemeral kind of beauty.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Sofie Birch / Antonina Nowacka - Languoria Music Album Reviews Sofie Birch / Antonina Nowacka - Languoria Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on October 19, 2022 Rating: 5


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